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 Post subject: Talking animal research?
PostPosted: Thu Nov 22, 2012 3:38 am 
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It is very hard to find information on research done on animals regarding communication methods employed by wild animals. I am most interested in verbal communication due to the possible complexity of the language due to the use of abstract concepts as meanings. I know that two rodents have been studied in the past (Richardson Ground Squirrel and Gunnison Prairie Dog) and some marine mammals (dolphin and whale) and greater apes (chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan). I heard of new research on coruro (a mole-like South American rodent) and a species of meerkat. Has anyone heard of any other language research on other species or even more information on the above-mentioned research?

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 12:33 am 
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Hi Ann:

There is a lot of research on animal communication in the sense of communicating with conspecifics; this is not the case with interspecies communication because this would mean animals having the ability to grasp the principles of human language, and as for the reverse, it takes great dedication to understand an animal's communications (with its conspecifics, let alone whether it may want or need to communicate with us). The latter, I think, is most successful with domesticated species - not only have they come to rely on us, but we (at least until recently, in modern Western society) relied on them. A great example of such an animal communicator, I think, is Temple Grandin. Others are some of the best animal trainers and husbandry personnel, call them "horse whisperers" or whatever; what these men and women have is an ability to read the cues animals give about themselves, and who know how to get across to an animal what the human wants. Note, however, that while such humans can often "read" an animal quickly, the animal may not do so as fast, and need to learn by repeated trial and error what it asked of it. The best animal trainers and educators rely very much on animal learning theory; a very good example of this is Andrew McLean, who is revolutionising horse training, and has extended his methods to other species such as working elephants. Note though that communication often is "non-verbal", and though body language and overt behaviour. While our domesticated animals can learn to understand human words (commands), again, such commands usually cannot be embedded in a sentence but need to be given in a clear voice, preferably calling the animal by name first if they are not already attending to the human. Even so, grasp of verbal command is limited, even in dogs - with prolonged training, a dog may learn some sixty "pure" (no added body language) commands; however, dogs, and also horses, are very good at picking up on human body language, as the classical story of "Clever Hans", the horse that could do arithmetic, shows. And some dogs are very good with names - there are several studies now of dogs that learned the names of hundreds of objects, and could retrieve them (look for studies by Kaminski), and not only that, but could pick out pictures of an object, or a smaller version of it (something only chimpanzees were thought capable of) - which brings me to the ape language experiments which while impressive (at least where apes use symbols for words, not sign language which is too iffy and open to interpretation), still have not a patch on human language development. It has taken apes years to learn a few hundred symbols/words - a toddler does that at lightning speed compared to apes. Humans have a true talking brain, even if some linguistic principles are shared with other species (surprisingly perhaps, more with some song birds than with apes). Bu there are interesting studies on within species communication, for instance, of monkeys in Africa that have "words" for different types of danger (from above or on the ground) but then again, so have chickens. But recent work suggest that monkeys also may convey the potential of a threat ("I thawed I thaw a puddy tat"); moreover, the nature of the voices tells about sex and dominance, and also which individual. In short, when you ask: Can humans communicate with animals? my answer wouild be yes; and vice versa. But can humans talk (literally) to animals, the answer would be negative. Can animals communicate with one another? Clearly so, but if vocal, it is mostly single signals (predator! I live here! I am a big male), not complicated concepts. I'll chase up some reading if you like.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 29, 2012 12:46 am 
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Thank you Cobie for some of those names to check out. A little background on my interest in animal communication: I met a man who had brain damage that caused him to be unable to form words with his mouth. He could still write what he wanted to say and he was very intelligent and funny (entertaining and great improvised jokes). His mouth was also perfectly fine and he could make all the sounds of words but something was broken between the words he could write down and the part of the brain that controls his lips. This told me that if an animal species has no specific need for complex sounds, the brain will lack the mechanisms to do so. They tried teaching a chimpanzee to talk verbally and she could vocalize a few words but was very frustrated trying to communicate the words she knew the meaning of but could not form the words with her lips. I decided that the only animals that can be trained to communicate verbally will be those that do so already. This cannot just be single-sound sentences either but rather combinations of sounds that can be adjusted to change elements of the meaning. Animals with the following three conditions may have a chance: active in the daytime with long range vision, live in holes in relatively flat land, and live in communities for protection from predators. These conditions provide the situation where a predator is invading the community and the animals must react appropriately but without leaving their holes (unless it is a snake or ferret) or else they will be eaten or dug up. This communication needs to portray species (nouns), location (adjectives), actions (verbs), intent (adverbs). It turns out that the first two rodents tested for complex verbal language also have words for color and size (more adjectives), and direction based on wind or on sun (birds attack from the sun and land animals attack upwind). Both of these species use sound differences in the ultrasonic range, compact the information in a short burst of sound, and do not use vowels-consonants like human languages usually do. This makes the detection of such language not obvious without experimentation and the use of computers with audio diagnosis software. There are many more species with those three conditions (diurnal, communal, fossorial) and the five mentioned non-primate land animals fit that (Richardson Ground Squirrels, Gunnison Prairie Dogs, meerkats, coruro, degus). This is where my efforts will be concentrated but I am open to other animals. Recently, male laboratory mice have been discovered to sing complex ballads much like song birds... but in the ultrasonic range. It remains to be seen if there is any meaning to these ballads but the mouse does have the brain mechanisms in place to make tunes and repeat these tunes accurately. Making a frequency-based language might work... but there would not necessarily be the parts of the brain needed to form meaning into sentences like the diurnal communal fossorial animals seem to be able to develop... but I would not know without trying.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 5:24 am 
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Ann Vole wrote:
It is very hard to find information on research done on animals regarding communication methods employed by wild animals. I am most interested in verbal communication due to the possible complexity of the language due to the use of abstract concepts as meanings. I know that two rodents have been studied in the past (Richardson Ground Squirrel and Gunnison Prairie Dog) and some marine mammals (dolphin and whale) and greater apes (chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan). I heard of new research on coruro (a mole-like South American rodent) and a species of meerkat. Has anyone heard of any other language research on other species or even more information on the above-mentioned research?

Image



Interesting to read Coby's response. Would very much like to get back to that .... but not yet.

My own response is to ask some questions.

You are interested in finding info about wild animal communication. And you say that you are "most interested in the verbal communication due to the possible complexity of the language due to the abstract concepts as meanings ..... etc., etc,

Of course you know that animals are not known to have language. So, you will never find evidence of 'verbal' communication amongst animals, but if you want to see them communicate, you must watch them. There are some examples which Coby will and has explained. (time warp). There are some anomalies but animals, in general, do not have the same aptitude for language that humans do. Different brains and all that ..... right?

So I'm wondering why you might be interested in evidence or research about "language" or "evidence" of language in other species? Are you searching for weirdness? Anomalies?

Would be to me like searching for a human to make a web. And then go ahead and eat the fly!


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 6:27 am 
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"Cobie":

There is a lot of research on animal communication in the sense of communicating with conspecifics; this is not the case with interspecies communication because this would mean animals having the ability to grasp the principles of human language,

This is where I get stuck ...... in interspecies communication, ... You mean that animals would have to grasp human language in order to be seen as beings who communicate .... with or without this thing called "language"?


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and as for the reverse, it takes great dedication to understand an animal's communications (with its conspecifics, let alone whether it may want or need to communicate with us).


Not really. It may want or need to communicate with us if it is WITH us .... is living in our home or close to. But it need not language to convey its needs.

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The latter, I think, is most successful with domesticated species - not only have they come to rely on us, but we (at least until recently, in modern Western society) relied on them.


We have always relied on them ... it has been a mutual reliance from a very, very long time ago. Look at the history of dogs and humans for example. This is an ancient story ..... and of course, there are many examples of the mutuality of our relatonships with animals which is quite natural.

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A great example of such an animal communicator, I think, is Temple Grandin. Others are some of the best animal trainers and husbandry personnel, call them "horse whisperers" or whatever; what these men and women have is an ability to read the cues animals give about themselves, and who know how to get across to an animal what the human wants.


Yes. It is sometimes called a "relationship".

Note, however, that while such humans can often "read" an animal quickly, the animal may not do so as fast, and need to learn by repeated trial and error what it asked of it. The best animal trainers and educators rely very much on animal learning theory; a very good example of this is Andrew McLean, who is revolutionising horse training, and has extended his methods to other species such as working elephants.

These guys do not work in circuses. Note. And go ahead ... thank God too.

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Note though that communication often is "non-verbal",


Which takes a certain kind of intuition ... since you cannot depend on language.


and though body language and overt behaviour. While our domesticated animals can learn to understand human words (commands), again, such commands usually cannot be embedded in a sentence but need to be given in a clear voice, preferably calling the animal by name first if they are not already attending to the human. Even so, grasp of verbal command is limited, even in dogs - with prolonged training, a dog may learn some sixty "pure" (no added body language) commands; however, dogs, and also horses, are very good at picking up on human body language, as the classical story of "Clever Hans", the horse that could do arithmetic, shows. And some dogs are very good with names - there are several studies now of dogs that learned the names of hundreds of objects, and could retrieve them (look for studies by Kaminski), and not only that, but could pick out pictures of an object, or a smaller version of it (something only chimpanzees were thought capable of) - which brings me to the ape language experiments which while impressive (at least where apes use symbols for words, not sign language which is too iffy and open to interpretation), still have not a patch on human language development.



Not a patch .... but why the interest in the first place? Why the focus on language? How did language become the finishing touch? Why is it important that other animals have language?

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It has taken apes years to learn a few hundred symbols/words - a toddler does that at lightning speed compared to apes.


Again, so what? How or why is this so important? Why do you emphasize this? Is your point language?

Quote:
Humans have a true talking brain, even if some linguistic principles are shared with other species (surprisingly perhaps, more with some song birds than with apes). Bu there are interesting studies on within species communication, for instance, of monkeys in Africa that have "words" for different types of danger (from above or on the ground) but then again, so have chickens.


Exactly!

Quote:
But recent work suggest that monkeys also may convey the potential of a threat ("I thawed I thaw a puddy tat"); moreover, the nature of the voices tells about sex and dominance, and also which individual. In short, when you ask: Can humans communicate with animals? my answer wouild be yes; and vice versa. But can humans talk (literally) to animals, the answer would be negative.


What is the purpose of language but to communicate? With words, more complex ideology can be passed around ...... Where has that got us?

Animals can communicate with us and we can communicate with them. What'a all this fluff about language?

Quote:
Can animals communicate with one another? Clearly so, but if vocal, it is mostly single signals (predator! I live here! I am a big male), not complicated concepts. I'll chase up some reading if you like.


Okay. But still, why the need for complicated concepts that only language could construe and convey? Again ... why the emphasis on language? What does it ultimately mean and how does it either affirm or negate consciousness in all species?


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 01, 2012 7:24 am 
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animal-friendly wrote:
Of course you know that animals are not known to have language
actually that is no longer the case... we now know that some animals have a verbal communication method that fulfills all the aspects that have been used to define language as linguists use the word. I suspect you have not read the second post of mine in this thread. Also check out the videos found on the website of the researcher for the prairie dogs (one of 3 different research groups to study that one species)... link at the bottom of this post
animal-friendly wrote:
So I'm wondering why you might be interested in evidence or research about "language" or "evidence" of language in other species?
1) My initial quest is to understand how brains work (human brains, animal brains, artificial intelligence programs, alien lifeforms that may be trying to communicate, fictional characters, ancient peoples). The best way to understand what is going on inside a brain is to ask the owner of that brain some questions. Of course that has been restricted to humans due to the lack of awareness of non-human languages and lack of tools to make/hear the required sounds. 2) I am convinced that animals are just humans stuck in non-human bodies but I have no evidence that this is so. If I can create a situation where humans can communicate complex thoughts to and from animal brains and do so "scientifically" (telepathy or empathy cannot be confirmed in a scientific manor... but if computers are doing the translation and recording all activity in precise meaning... the results of any test can be studied by linguists and confirmed to be true), then I can change the opinion of animal brain abilities and open up the study of brains to non-human models of thinking mechanisms 3) most important to me personally... I want to run a business that involves handling animals. I love animating and making films. I figure I can make films staring animals as animal actors and add digital animation to enhance the film footage of the animals. Training animals is time-expensive and lacks flexibility. If I can just tell the animal what to do, I can have instant results and can continue a shot that has progressed out of the script by ad-libbing the actions of the animal in real-time. 4) I think that animals make better pets and get treated with a better life when they can communicate effectively with the human owner. Providing animal species who can communicate in a complex way and the equipment to do so would result in improved lives of pets and improved psychological good results in the human from having such a pet. 5) Much of the latest drug research is in drugs that affect the brain. There is no effective way to test these drugs on animals beyond gross effects from high doses that result in depression so bad the animal suffers health effects too. If we can ask the animal what emotions it feels, reasonable doses can be used to see the real-use effects in action. --- I listed over 20 reasons that talking animals would be beneficial to humans or to animals.

I watch animals on YouTube a lot and spend hours observing animals both wild and pet (in person) so I will always be studying animals via observations but I still want dearly to have a deeper conversation with a non-human.

http://conslobodchikoff.com/


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 10, 2012 6:50 pm 
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Hello Ann:

Sorry about the silence but here Down Under the academic year ends with the calendar year so we are engaged in mopping up activities, so to speak.... but I just got notice of an excellent review article on animal communication. I hope you can get access to it otherwise maybe I can e-mail you a PDF of it? Here it is:

Functionally Referential Communication in Mammals: The Past, Present and the Future

Simon W. Townsend*,
Marta B. Manser

Ethology

Volume 119, Issue 1, pages 1–11, January 2013

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1 ... 5/abstract

Whether animal vocalizations have the potential to communicate information regarding ongoing external events or objects has received considerable attention over the last four decades. Such ‘functionally referential signals’ (Macedonia & Evans 1993) have been shown to occur in a range of mammals and bird species and as a consequence have helped us understand the complexities that underlie animal communication, particularly how animals process and perceive their socio-ecological worlds. Here, we review the existing evidence for functionally referential signals in mammals according to the framework put forward in the seminal Macedonia and Evans review paper. Furthermore, we elucidate the ambiguities regarding the functionally referential framework that have become obvious over the last years. Finally, we highlight new potential areas for investigation within referential signalling. We conclude the functionally referential framework is still informative when interpreting the meaning of animal vocalizations but, based on emerging research, requires further integration with other approaches investigating animal vocal complexity to broaden its applicability.

Cobie


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 12, 2012 12:11 am 
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Functionally Referential Communication in Mammals: The Past, Present and the Future
sounds like an awesome title for the kind of stuff I want to see and study.

ps... I will try to access the article via the public library first. I will suggest they print it, bind it and add it to the library materials.


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